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How to Write a Good Scholarship Essay

Updated on August 9, 2014

Making Sure You Get That Scholarship

As a college student faced with the daunting task of paying over $100,000 in college tuition, I can attest to the fact that higher education can be a scary thing. I want to start by saying this - DON'T assume that because you're a sports star, top of the class, or a practical communitiy philanthropist, that you'll get scholarships. This is NOT true. I can speak from experience as the valedictorian with more than 600 hours of intensive community service on a functioning 1800s historical brig, 12 years of piano playing experience, my own home business, and an employment history - none of that has gotten me a scholarship! I've spent close to 100 hours trying to find the scholarships that will pay my way through school, and in a world where the cost of college education has become a stigma to the educated world, students like you and me who are ready and raring for college often discover (too late!) that going head over heels into tens of thousands of dollars of debt just isn't an option. Thankfully, there's no need to worry - many companies and organizations offer scholarships (free money) with which students can attend college. But there's a catch - you have to be the perfect applicant in order to get that money. Sound impossible? Fasten your seatbelts and hold on tight, because you're going to learn the powerful strategies to make your essay the winner!

Step 1: Answer the Question! - That's so obvious! But is it, really?

Did you answer every part of the question?
Did you answer every part of the question?

Many scholarship essays require the applicant to answer a question or series of questions in essay form. Usually, these essays come with a word or character limit. For obvious reasons, do not exceed that limit! Essays which break this basic rule will automatically be disqualified

Additionally, scholarship questions often address more than one topic at once - make sure that you carefully read the question over a couple of times. Then, when you write your essay, proofread it to make sure that you satisfactorily answered all parts of the question.

It should go without saying, do your best. A scholarship essay is a sales pitch! You have a few seconds to make a lasting impression on your judges - take that opportunity. They want to be impressed immediately; if they don't see what they like after glancing over your essay, you've already lost the scholarship. Come out bold, and don't be afraid to brag!

Are you the most amazing person in the world? Tell the judges. Have you done something no one else your age has ever done? Tell the judges. The people who award these essay scholarships are looking at a person, not a list of stats. It usually doesn't matter that you are the star of the basketball team, or that you are valedictorian (you can believe me on that one) - those things are helpful, but they don't seal the deal. YOU do. In particular, judges like reading about how you overcame a great obstacle or succeeded in the face of many challenges (literal or abstract).

Remember - you need to show those judges that you are WAY cooler than anyone else who's even THINKING of applying.

You've been warned.
You've been warned.

Step 2: Don't Ride the Fence!

(For more reasons than one....)

If you've taken the SAT or ACT (or equivalents), you should hopefully know what I mean by this. If the question is, "Should road kill be used as fuel?" I don't care what your opinion is. For heaven's sake, pick a side! None of this "road kill as fuel is fine unless..." There is no "unless." The answer is "yes" or "no," simple as that.

Essay judges want to see people who are committed totally to what they do and what they hope to accomplish. If you waver and wobble in your essay somewhere in that no-man's-land between "yes" and "no," judges will realize that your idea to go to college might waver in between that "yes" and "no" as well. There goes your scholarship money!

Remember - the judges have asked you a question, and you KNOW you are right. Tell them so.

Karate-chop your grammar and vocabulary!
Karate-chop your grammar and vocabulary!

Step 3: Karate-Chop Your Grammar!

Kick your essay into shape with powerful structure and knockout vocabulary!

I said kick your essay, not the dog.

Y is grammer important? The moment a judge sees misspellings, sentence fragments, or sentences with misplaced modifiers (making them hard to understand), you're losing ground by the second. Hopefully you've noticed, even within this article, that sentence structure often varies from paragraph to paragraph and even sentence to sentence. If you roll out an essay that looks like this - I am a very interesting person. I deserve this scholarship because I work hard. I play sports. etc - you will bore the judge out of his mind before he even finishes your first paragraph. Did you notice what happens? Subject+verb+object. Over and over again. Give me some variation!

Which reminds me - if you're writing an essay and it's just one huge block of text, consider revising it and breaking it into paragraphs. Simple steps like breaking it down will make it easier for a judge to digest without getting bored because he can take it in smaller chunks.

In the area of grammar, be particularly careful of "because" sentences. Say you start with, "I deserve this scholarship because I am the valedictorian." Instead of a bland, limp statement like that, karate-chop it and add some spunk! "With a grade point average of 3.94 out of 4, I have outstripped my competition and achieved the coveted title of valedictorian due to my unquenchable determination to learn and my devotion to doing my best." Now THAT is more like it!

Regarding vocabulary, knock out your competition with "active" words like "strive," "pursue," and "aspire." You say you want this scholarship? You don't "want" it, you "strive to attain" it. Judges aren't asking for you to prove you know what hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia is (which is, ironically, fear of long words - if you were wondering). All the judges want is a little spunk to prove that you actually completed those vocab classes. Some really great words could include foreign ones, like -

Pièce de résistance - your absolute best work (as your A+ term paper is your pièce de résistance because it is your most outstanding work)

Junto - a group of persons joined for a single purpose

Vis-à-vis - face to face

There are many other great words out there as well. If you haven't learned to use a thesaurus, you might want to start now!

Karate-chop your grammar? Well, maybe too much of a good thing.

Karate-chop your grammar? Well, maybe too much of a good thing.
Karate-chop your grammar? Well, maybe too much of a good thing.

Step 4: Watch Your Tone! - Be powerful without being angry.

Watch your tone!
Watch your tone!

By this time, you should have a pretty good idea of what a good essay looks like (or should look like, at least). I've said it before and I'll say it again - your essay is a sales pitch. You are trying to make the judge buy into your awesomeness. Think for a moment about how you'd sell someone something.

Your voice? Strong. Your words? Knowledgeable. Your posture? Confident.

Now, can you make your essay feel like that?

Talk confidently about yourself and your achievements. Leave nothing for shame or uncertainty. You ARE awesome. But remember that there is a fine line between bold (which is great) and offensive (which is very, very bad). Don't tell the judge that he MUST acknowledge your achievements; instead, go for something like, "My goals and achievements fit perfectly in line with the type of image your company (insert name) strives (see that word?) to represent."

Can you see the difference? Make them believe you by making them adore you, not by forcing them to acknowledge you.

Now, start racking up the cash, my friends! And always remember - a happy judge means one happy scholarship applicant!

Good luck!

Brains or Skills?

A lot of people think that only the smartest people get scholarships; then again, a large crowd believes that brains have nothing to do with it! They think that cool skills, like being athletic or having certain hobbies, will get them scholarships without the need for stellar grades. What do you think?

Do you need to get good grades to get a scholarship?

Scholarship Winners!

How much have you won in scholarship money?

See results

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    • michaelangelo1 profile image

      michaelangelo1 4 years ago

      This is very impressive and really interesting lens and you might want to check this too: 5 Tips How to Make Money by Doing What You Love

    • carrieott profile image
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      carrieott 4 years ago

      @reasonablerobby: Wow, thanks a lot! I'm glad that people are finding it helpful.

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      reasonablerobby 4 years ago

      Excellent lens with some well explained and helpful guidance. Something I'll recommend.

    • carrieott profile image
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      carrieott 6 years ago

      @JoshK47: Thanks! Lol, the karate cat cracked me up, so I knew I should share it with everyone! :) I'm glad you liked it!

    • profile image

      JoshK47 6 years ago

      Awesome work on this lens - an excellent guide to writing just about any essay, but especially great for scholarships... also, on the silly side of things, I love the karate cat picture.

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 6 years ago

      @Teddi14 LM: Thanks so much! Squidoo seems like a great place so far! I'm glad to see that you enjoyed the lense!

    • Teddi14 LM profile image

      Teddi14 LM 6 years ago

      Oh, and welcome to Squidoo!

    • Teddi14 LM profile image

      Teddi14 LM 6 years ago

      Nice job. I love the advice here.

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 6 years ago

      @SusanDeppner: Thanks a lot! I'm glad you appreciated it!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 6 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Great advice!

    • carrieott profile image
      Author

      carrieott 6 years ago

      @moonlitta: Thanks for reading! So far, I'm happy to be a squid! :)

    • profile image

      moonlitta 6 years ago

      Welcome to Squidoo, too!

    • profile image

      moonlitta 6 years ago

      This is something lots of students will surely appreciate!